Keeping our children safe at school

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By Deidre Wilkinson

    Here we go again, another school year another student sexual victim in a Bedford County high school.
    As another school year is upon us, parents may wonder about the safety of their children while they are at school. In the past couple of years at least three students were not kept safe while at school. They were victims of sexual abuse by adults employed at each of our three Bedford County public high schools.
    One of the abusers was previously a Roanoke County public high school teacher and coach.  As a concerned parent I researched and found an organization called Darkness to Light (www.D2L.org) which offers a workshop called Stewards of Children.
    This program educates adults, school employees in this case, on how to prevent, recognize, and react to childhood sexual abuse. The statistics are staggering. One in six boys and one in four girls will be sexually abused in some form by the time they are eighteen. In over 90 percent of the cases the abuser is someone the child knows and trusts. 
    We can’t stop it everywhere, but we sure need to stop it in our schools. This is a taboo subject to discuss, but I’m here to rock the boat and open the discussion in order to raise awareness and the standard of safety in our schools.
    In May I spoke to the school board during the public forum portion of the meeting regarding this important program. Since then I have received one brief and dismissive email from the school administration acknowledging my interest in implementing a safeguarding program.
    One might think that the safety of our children is something about which our school leaders only talk, but don’t really see it as something on which to act. Perhaps it’s really not a concern at all.  Perhaps their own liability might be a concern to them.
    Faculty and staff of schools are legally mandated reporters of sexual abuse. This means that if they seriously suspect it they are legally bound to report it to Child Protective Services 1-800 552-7096, or the police. If they choose to look the other way, not only does a child remain in danger but they themselves are neglecting the law. Sexual predators are therefore being protected by surrounding adults who choose to be apathetic or are ignorant of the law.
     I would like to challenge the Bedford County School System to be the leaders in our area in protecting our students from this type of abuse.  Why don’t we be the cutting edge and the most evolved in how we strive to protect our students at this most basic level? Let’s set the tone of diligence and empowerment for our faculty and staff through education. Implementing a safeguarding program such as Stewards of Children from Darkness to Light would do just that.
     So why wouldn’t you?